Kate Brannigan PI
In addition to the 1995 Gold Dagger Award winning Mermaids Singing and the popular series featuring Lindsay Gordon, Val McDermid is the author of a series of crime novels featuring Kate Brannigan.
Review of Blue Genes
About the Author
Kate Brannigan is the junior partner at Manchester-based Mortensen & Brannigan, a private consultancy firm specializing in computer fraud and security systems. She started out studying for a law degree but dropped out after developing a taste for life as a PI as a result of doing some work for Bill Mortensen to make a bit of spare cash.
It's an odd sort of life, often exciting, even dangerous, sometimes boring, and at times depressing. Working between the worlds of villains and the law you come to recognise that there are many shades to villainy, a fact which the law itself does not recognise. As her friend DCI Della Prentice reminds her in Blue Genes, she could never work on the side of the establishment:
"The trouble with you, Kate, is you understand the moral ambiguity of life. And youre lucky, because the job you do lets you exercise that. You decide who your client will be. You decide to defend the innocent and nail the guilty ."
And Kate often finds herself enlisting the help of those on the wrong side of the law. One of her biggest sources of information on the scams doing the rounds on the streets is Dennis, an ex-con trying to go straight. The pair work out at Thai Boxing together, a necessary skill if youre to live in an inner-city area. Then theres Gizmo who works by day as a computer systems manager for British Telecom, and by night roams an on-line world of dodgy bulletin boards, hackers and phreakers. If Kate needs any info that isnt in the public domain, then Gizmos the man.
At home, Kate has devised a near-perfect setup with the man in her life, rock journalist Richard Barclay. They live next door to each other with a conservatory connecting the two houses. Each has access to the other's half but they can easily maintain their own space and privacy. Which is a good thing as Kate could never live with Richards untidiness and his tendency to arrive home stoned, in the wee hours with the odd member (how about Dan Druff of the Scabby Heided Bairns?) of the newest rock band in tow, ready to carry on carousing till all hours. Kate needs her sleep!But life with Richard is not all mayhem, there are compensations - hes obsessed with Chinese food, and often staggers home clutching armloads of takeaway. This time its an obsession that Kate shares, but she always seems to miss out on the goodies as Richard will quite willingly hog the major share under the pretext of interest in Kates latest investigation. She talks, he eats, and the salt-and-pepper chicken wings disappear without trace!
Kate thrives on her work. Shes energetic, tenacious and independent, both in work and personal relationships. As the series progresses, she develops contacts and friends and finds her feet in the under-world of crime on the streets of Manchester. The scams she uncovers provide much of the excitement of the books: you can always count on learning something new from Kate Brannigan, be it how to set up a get-rich-quick land-selling scam, the workings of a child pornography ring, or the most up to date information on sub-fertility genetic research. Kate Brannigan exposes and explores the kinds of crime you hear little of - the major crime operations that are rife in todays inner-cities. Not the every-day robberies you see on Crime Watch, but the major exposures of Cutting Edge.You discover schemes you had no idea existed, frauds youd never have imagined in a million years. The type of crimes you feel ought to be fought tooth and nail by the police.
But in Val McDermid's books, Kate Brannigan is the one out on the streets, fighting the battle. She doesnt fight alone: she has Alexis Lee, a crime reporter on the Manchester Evening Chronicle and in the later books she finds a good friend and ally in Della Prentice, a Detective Chief Inspector in the local force. Kate is able to go places the police cant, and cut corners to get results. Theres no pretending that a PI on her own can turn the whole sad mess around, but the priorities and bureaucracy of the police are often at odds with the real problems. The sheer scale of crime in inner cities is such that perhaps the police are no longer able to cope with more than catching the small fry.
Val McDermid always writes about characters and situations that she knows about: journalism, life on the streets of Manchester, Chinese food, lesbian friends. And it is this that gives her books an appealing and often startling authenticity. Her research is impressive, you are always left feeling wiser after reading one of her books. But above all you have been well entertained.
Blue Genes Review
Blue Genes is Kate Brannigans fifth adventure and this time she has well and truly established herself as Britains top female PI. Kate is witty, shrewd and sometimes outrageously macho (some might even say stroppy, but not to her face!) and most importantly very good at her job.
Shes as tenacious as a pit-bull. She knows about computers, life on the streets of Manchester and has the inside information on all the scams, big and small. And this time shes mixed up with the big boys - not the gang land drug lords of CrackDown, but the men that control the citys extremely lucrative rock entertainment business - those with the power to make or break new bands, men who wouldnt think twice about breaking limbs or worse.
But Kate Brannigan never does things by halves and after the death of top fertility specialist, Sarah Blackstone, Kate's best friend and crime reporter, Alexis persuades her to investigate the highly secretive world of fertility treatment for lesbians.
On top of all this, her business partner Bill has seemingly lost his marbles and plans to sell his side of the business, move to Australia and get married. Feeling angry and betrayed, Kate needs more than ever to prove her worth - the future of her livelihood is at stake.
The opening of Blue Genes is remarkably cunning. I cant say too much without giving the game away, but you may need to have read at least one of Kates previous adventures to appreciate the full impact, but thats certainly no hardship. If youve never read any Kate Brannigan books, Id recommend them all highly. Kate, her friends and her colleagues develop throughout the series. The complexity of their characters and relationships add much to the richness of the stories, and Kates past exploits make her what she is today. She is certainly worth savoring. Blue Genes is mouth-wateringly good - a bit like salt-and-pepper chicken wings really! (EAL)
Titles in the Kate Brannigan series are:
"Dead Beat" © 1992 (Gollancz) (pbk Gollancz Vista 1996)
"Kick Back" © 1993 (Gollancz) (pbk Gollancz Vista 1996)
"Crack Down" © 1994 (HarperCollins) short-listed for the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger award (pbk HarperCollins 1995)
"Clean Break" © 1995 (HarperCollins) (pbk HarperCollins 1996)
"Blue Genes" © 1996 (HarperCollins) (pbk HarperCollins March 1997)